Maryland Delegate Michael Hough says he wants his fellow state lawmakers to limit their own terms so part-time legislators don't turn into career politicians.
When the Maryland General Assembly convenes in January, Hough will push to bar state lawmakers from serving more than three terms in the Senate and three in the House of Delegates. Capping length of service would shake up the "ruling class" that now controls the legislative process in Annapolis, he believes.
"They've got a machine down there, and they wield a lot of power," said Hough, R-District 3B.
Hough said his belief in term limits developed after seeing how the state Legislature operates. He noted that Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Democrat, has led his chamber for decades and said the seven House committee chairs have held office for a combined total of about 180 years.
These long periods in office have allowed lawmakers to get entrenched and caused them to lose touch with normal people, Hough argues. Term limits could free up lawmakers to vote with their consciences, since they wouldn't be as concerned about how displeasing powerful state leaders would affect their re-election chances, he said.
Enacting term limits would require an amendment to the Maryland Constitution, a task that Hough acknowledges will be an uphill climb. Delegate Steven Schuh, R-Anne Arundel, sponsored a similar bill in 2012, but the proposal never came out of committee.
Currently, 15 states limit the length of time a legislator can serve, with term caps ranging between six and 12 years, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Some of the states restrict consecutive terms in elected office, while other limits apply for a politician's lifetime.
Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, executive director of Common Cause Maryland, said her organization doesn't take a position for or against term limits. In some states, the practice brings fresh faces to the legislature, while in others it undermines the development of institutional knowledge. However, she said Common Cause, a group that focuses on government ethics and accountability, does recognize some of the problems Hough has raised.
"We're always concerned when we see the power stay within a small set of hands," Bevan-Dangel said.
State Sen. David Brinkley said he'd be open-minded about Hough's bill, though he agreed with Bevan-Dangel that term limits can come with their own challenges.
He said he'd be concerned that the caps would create "lame duck" terms during which legislators would feel less accountable to their constituents. Making sure voters have the final say in choosing elected leaders is of primary importance, said Brinkley, R-District 4.
Hough's term-limit proposal is part of his four-bill package focused on reforming Maryland government. The group of bills announced Monday also includes proposals to require a supermajority vote for any tax increases and provide video broadcasts for all state floor sessions and voting sessions.
Hough is also looking to beef up rules governing lobbying activity by former legislators.
After leaving the Legislature, lawmakers must observe a yearlong "cooling-off period" before they can start lobbying in the General Assembly. Hough said he wants to increase this to two years and also require one-year "cooling-off periods" for senior executive or legislative staff who leave their state jobs to become lobbyists.
He said he hopes this change would discourage lawmakers from leaving midterm to take positions with lobbying firms.
"I just think voters would disapprove of the idea that they elect people, and in the middle of their terms, they cash out and become a lobbyist," Hough said.
Bevan-Dangel said Common Cause would support this proposal.
Follow Bethany Rodgers on Twitter: @BethRodgersFNP.